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Stories from 2021 that stuck with us long after we read them

There’s a reason these stories resonated with us. They give us pause; they serve as reminders and lessons to not take any day for granted. They show us what our neighbors are going through and in turn it can inspire us to help them. They’re the moments we overcame what we once thought was impossible, which lead to moments worth celebrating, both as old traditions and new memories.

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Reminiscing on time spent with family and friends

Reuniting: For many, this has been a year of long-awaited reunions and gatherings. But for families and friends living far away from one another, their reunions are still to be had. 

“We understand,” Michelle Lopez said. “They have to protect the population [in Mexico], and the medical system is great, but it’s easily overwhelmed because it’s an island. We understand the health protections. It’s just sad.”

Día de los Muertos is celebrated by many members of the Latino/Hispanic community members of the Berkshires. Recently, we asked Laura Cabrera to help us better understand the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, and a few of the traditions that go along with it. Here are a few facts she shared about Día de los Muertos …

Dia de los Muertos: This quote from Laura Cabrera — who lives in Pittsfield but grew up celebrating Día de los Muertos in Veracrus, Mexico — resonated, especially for this time of the year, when many of us are preparing special dishes for loved ones just as our parents or grandparents did for us. 

"When I’m cooking, I hear the words of my grandmother and I feel they have not died," Cabrera says. "For me, she lives on with me because I carry her in my heart. The words that she left me, I think if we transmit to our children, our traditions, beliefs or myths will never die."

Remote learning: Though young people in the Berkshires and across the country were at lower risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19, their education and development — both academic and social — were highly vulnerable because of remote learning and limited social interaction with peers. It's a double-edged sword ... trying to keep children safe from the virus and yet the distance may be creating more problems.

Learning that we shouldn't take our health for granted

Three laps at the relay for life: Three stories of cancer survivors show us that sometimes bad luck can turn out to be a blessing in disguise, or at least push us in the right direction. One walker tells the story of how a dog kicking her in stomach lead to the discovery of ovarian cancer, which she says she wouldn't have otherwise found. Other walkers describe how cancer pushed them to dig deep and find strength they didn't know they could muster. 

“I would’ve expected myself to fall apart,” one walker said. “And I did. But, then this calm came over me. You dig down into yourself and, at some point, it just comes naturally. You tell yourself, ‘I’ve got this. It’s gonna be fine.’”

A rare illness: A Dalton girl living with PANDAS, an autoimmune disorder that sets in abruptly and causes on-and-off, debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder, tics, rages, depression, and a host of other psychological, neurological and motor symptoms.

The disease manifests as ritual, depression, paranoia. During a flare, her handwriting degrades; she refuses to leave the house, shower or brush her teeth. Her long hair condenses into knots, as loose strands reach for the ceiling. This is the story of a mother's journey to find a diagnosis while trying to keep her daughter as safe and happy as she can be. 

From cancer to COVID: This is the story of Rick Bua, a 67-year-old cancer survivor who was one of the first Massachusetts residents to test positive for the virus. In this story, he recounts finishing his chemo treatments in the spring of 2020, and only a few weeks later feeling very sick again. He is admitted to the hospital with a COVID-19 diagnosis. A year later, he received his vaccine and feels grateful to have his health back. 

When our neighbors need help

Reading: Maggie Curtin kept a secret for much of her adult life: She couldn't read. She graduated high school in 1963 and got through by memorizing a handful of words. Curtain didn't know she had dyslexia, and didn't know there were solutions out there to help her. 

“The day I had the breakthrough that I was going to be able to read, I cried for a long time,” Curtin said. “The pain of all those years needed to be released.”

Safety hotline: Recovery does not always happen in a straight path or overnight. When trying to help others struggling with addiction and working to achieve sobriety, sometimes the most important thing we can do is listen without judgement and be there for them.

For one North Adams woman, it was a business card in her wallet that reminded her she was not alone and had options. 

"We do this because we have some underlying trauma," she said. "Usually, mental health issues. Everybody is struggling. Some people do it with legal things like alcohol or gambling. It doesn't make anybody 'less than.'”

A helping hand: A Pittsfield entrepreneur sells sweets, beverages and apparel, and then donates the proceeds to help those in need. Meet Hadley Light, a now 9-year-old, who just wants to help others in her community.

“I feel really good about it,” Hadley said, “because I know that when people are buying my products, I know I’m going to give money to stop homelessness so more and more people can have homes and food.”

Remembering those we have lost

Birthday wishes: Two of Terri Wilbur's grandchildren, twins Alex and Zoe, would have turned 10 this year, and Wilbur wrote them a birthday note she sent to the The Eagle. It is a circumstance in which time does not heal all wounds.

Remembering Sept. 11: Twenty years ago, Clarence Fanto left his home in Lenox and began driving to Pittsfield, where he worked as managing editor of The Berkshire Eagle. As he drove, Fanto admired the crystal-clear blue sky above and thought, "This is going to be one of the best days of the year."

Then he turned on his radio.

"I heard the first report of the first plane crashing into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center," Fanto said.

Eagle staffers recall their personal accounts of Sept. 11, 2001.

An old photo: Reporters are notorious packrats. Desks are filled with old coffee cups, napkins with scribbled phone numbers, filled notebooks, red and black pens and stacks of old newspapers and clippings. During a yearly purge, one reporter finds an old photograph he used for a story in 2003 while cleaning his desk. This story gave us pause because it made us reflect on why it is we hold onto old things and how one object can bring back different memories to each person.  

Celebrating diversity in our community

Juneteenth: While Juneteenth has been celebrated since the late 1800s, this year was the first time the date was commemorated as a federal holiday.

Juneteenth, also historically known as Jubilee Day and Emancipation Day, marks the day when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, learned that they legally were free from enslavement. In conversations with The Eagle, several Berkshire County residents shared what the day means to them, and what it means to be free.

Council winners: For the city of North Adams, the November election was a historical moment for three reasons: the city elected its first female mayor; elected its first openly transgender councilor; and elected its first Black person to the City Council. We spoke to Ashley Shade and Michael Obasohan to hear their thoughts on making history.

Indigenous People's Day: President Joe Biden made the first-ever federal proclamation of Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples Day, with a promise to honor the trust and treaty obligations of the federal government to tribal nations.

How to move forward against the odds

Need roots: When you're at the grocery store picking up carrots, how often is it that you think about the farmer that picked it, or the farm from which it came? For customers of Molly Comstock, they care an awful lot. Comstock is a farmer who has been planting and harvesting crops in Alford, but this season may have been her last in that location. This resilient farmer has moved locations before and she's looking for a new home now. 

No running water: Clean, accessible water is a basic human need, and unfortunately, in the small town of Clarksburg, water isn't coming out of the faucet and the pipes are crumbling. Who is going to fix this problem?

“People want government to fix things?” said Carl McKinney, a former Clarksburg town administrator said. “Government is a collection of us. We are the government.”

The people who set up the district? “They’re all dead,” McKinney said.

Graduation: Celebrating the end of high school is a major achievement for many young adults. The ceremony signifies the official beginning of the next chapter in their lives as many enter adulthood and the working world. However, for some teens, they enter the "real world" earlier because of circumstances that are beyond their control: taking care of family members who are sick or need help. It's a selfless act, but it can be debilitating to find a job without a high school diploma. These are the stories of those who were there for their families and went back to earn their degrees despite the hardships. 

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